“We’re pregnant!” As a Dad of now four kiddos, I remember the mix of excitement and terror that came with our first positive pregnancy test. I also remember feeling for the first time (and truthfully still live with) a unique brand of anxiety that goes along with being a parent.
It is very normal to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression while expecting and after the arrival of a newborn. Symptoms of anxiety can include restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances such as troubling falling or staying asleep. Symptoms of depression can include depressed mood, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, sleep disturbance, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, indecisiveness, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you are noticing that these symptoms are persisting or increasing in yourself or your partner, you may be experiencing what is known as a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Did you know that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men experience a PMAD? To put that in context, that’s a minimum of 3 to 5 parents of students in a class size of 30.
What to know and expect about a PMAD? To begin, it is not the fault of the Mom or Dad and no one did anything wrong to bring the symptoms on. In my work as a clinical therapist, I know that people can under-report the intensity, frequency and duration of their depressive and anxious symptoms. There are a variety of reasons for this, including not wanting to feel like a burden in general or to their spouse in specific, not knowing how to talk about feelings that are persistent and even scary at times, feeling guilt or shame, as well as just being overwhelmed and too exhausted to take note of what is being experienced. The reason for sharing this is that if you are noticing that you or your partner are exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, those symptoms could be more intense than you are observing and are likely going to be under-reported by your partner.
What can you do? As a Dad, you are going to feel tired and overwhelmed at times too. Have you felt as a Dad that more is being expected of you? That’s probably because it is! In his book, The New Rules of Marriage, Terry Real talks about 21st century expectations for marriage and how they have shifted. He extends this to indicating that expectations for us as Dads have increased and rightfully so. Taking a hard look at ourselves and how we can share in the hard work of managing the household (e.g., cooking, laundry and cleaning) and talking about this with your partner would be helpful.
You can be empathetic and show understanding by asking open-ended questions. For example, two great questions are: “What can I do to help?” and “What do you need from me?” Additionally, be prepared for your partner have different answers to those questions depending on the day or that your partner may not be able to speak what they need in the moment. That is totally okay. On this note, another way to be helpful is to take initiative without being asked. A key point here is communicating with your partner to see if they want to be asked, prefer you take initiative, or a combination of both.
You can encourage self-care for your partner and for you. You can encourage rest, exercise, socializing with friends and prepare healthy meals. You can go with your partner to see the doctor and/or to see a therapist. One avenue to consider when seeking therapy is that many companies and plans have what is called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs typically authorize a certain number of sessions (often 3 to 4) that are no cost to the employee or spouse.
Finally, you can get informed and seek out support from people who have been there or who are currently going through what you are…you are not alone! You can communicate with your partner and loved ones in a caring yet direct way that you are concerned about them. The links below are two great places for Dads to start…
Resources for Fathers
You got this and will get through it! There is hope!
-Written by Joe Halaiko, LPC-IT, SAC-IT
Joe Halaiko, LPC-IT, SAC-IT specializes in relationship concerns, trauma, grief/loss, managing chronic illness, depression, substance abuse and anxiety. He has prior experience in human resources and can help people strategize on work issues or navigate career transitions. He works with adolescents, adults, couples and families to develop goals tailored to each of their individual needs. He uses an integrated approach, drawing on Person-centered, Existential/Humanistic and Narrative models, as well as using Cognitive Behavioral and Motivational Interviewing strategies. He plays guitar, and believes in the power of creativity, possibility and compassion.